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analytic philosophy

n. (context philosophy English) A style of philosophy that came to dominate English-speaking countries in the 20th century.

Analytic philosophy

Analytic philosophy (sometimes analytical philosophy) is a style of philosophy that became dominant in English-speaking countries at the beginning of the 20th century. In the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Scandinavia, the majority of university philosophy departments today identify themselves as "analytic" departments.

The term "analytic philosophy" can refer to one of several things:

  • As a philosophical practice, it is characterized by an emphasis on argumentative clarity and precision, often making use of formal logic, conceptual analysis, and to a lesser degree, mathematics and the natural sciences. Brian Leiter (2006) webpage "Analytic" and "Continental" Philosophy.

Quote on the definition: "'Analytic' philosophy today names a style of doing philosophy, not a philosophical program or a set of substantive views. Analytic philosophers, crudely speaking, aim for argumentative clarity and precision; draw freely on the tools of logic; and often identify, professionally and intellectually, more closely with the sciences and mathematics, than with the humanities."

  • As a historical development, analytical philosophy refers to certain developments in early 20th-century philosophy that were the historical antecedents of the current practice. Central figures in this historical development are Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, G. E. Moore, Gottlob Frege, and the logical positivists. In this more specific sense, analytic philosophy is identified with specific philosophical traits (many of which are rejected by many contemporary analytic philosophers), such as:
    • The logical-positivist principle that there are not any specifically philosophical facts and that the object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. This may be contrasted with the traditional foundationalism, which considers philosophy to be a special science (i.e. the discipline of knowledge) that investigates the fundamental reasons and principles of everything. Consequently, many analytic philosophers have considered their inquiries as continuous with, or subordinate to, those of the natural sciences. This is an attitude that begins with John Locke, who described his work as that of an "underlabourer" to the achievements of natural scientists such as Newton. During the twentieth century, the most influential advocate of the continuity of philosophy with science was Willard Van Orman Quine.
    • The principle that the logical clarification of thoughts can be achieved only by analysis of the logical form of philosophical propositions. The logical form of a proposition is a way of representing it (often using the formal grammar and symbolism of a logical system), to reduce it to simpler components if necessary, and to display its similarity with all other propositions of the same type. However, analytic philosophers disagree widely about the correct logical form of ordinary language.
    • The neglect of generalized philosophical systems in favour of more restricted inquiries stated rigorously, or ordinary language.

According to a characteristic paragraph by Russell:

Modern analytical empiricism [...] differs from that of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume by its incorporation of mathematics and its development of a powerful logical technique. It is thus able, in regard to certain problems, to achieve definite answers, which have the quality of science rather than of philosophy. It has the advantage, in comparison with the philosophies of the system-builders, of being able to tackle its problems one at a time, instead of having to invent at one stroke a block theory of the whole universe. Its methods, in this respect, resemble those of science. I have no doubt that, in so far as philosophical knowledge is possible, it is by such methods that it must be sought; I have also no doubt that, by these methods, many ancient problems are completely soluble.

Jules Vuillemin introduced analytic philosophy to France.

Analytic philosophy is often understood in contrast to other philosophical traditions, most notably continental philosophies such as existentialism and phenomenology, and also Thomism, Indian philosophy, and Marxism.